As a general rule airlines don’t let you change the name on a ticket. If you could swap names, you could resell tickets, and that would undermine airline pricing strategies that try to charge more for the kind of last minute travel usually purchased by business travelers.
That’s also why airlines started insisting on ID’ing travelers, to make sure their tickets weren’t being resold. The government didn’t impose an airline ID requirement until 1996 as a way of looking like they were ‘doing something’ after the TWA flight 800 accident that some at the time thought might have been terrorism-related.
There are exceptions to this. JetBlue used to allow name changes on tickets for $25. Scandinavian used to allow name changes if you’d sign a form saying the trip was leisure and not business. But airlines have cracked down on their exceptions.
However there are times you need to fix the name on a ticket, and times you need to change the name on a ticket altogether.
Does The Name On My Ticket Need to Match My ID?
Minor misspellings on tickets are common and not usually something to worry about. It’s more important that “Secure Flight information’ which is entered separately matches your travel documents in order to be allowed to fly. However Secure Flight Information can be updated by your airline, even at the check-in gate.
I’ve never seen someone denied boarding because their middle name wasn’t on a ticket or there was a misspelling of a middle name. There is no requirement for an airline ticket to include your middle name, however if your ID includes a middle name that should be included in secure flight information.
It’s possible that a security screener will scrutinize your ticket, notice a difference with your ID (such as a misspelling of your first or last name) and give you a hard time. That’s unlikely, but the government’s document checkers have substantial unchecked authority.
So it makes sense to try to get the airline to fix your name on a ticket. This is something that’s pretty easy to do when the airline you bought the ticket from is the same airline that you’re flying – there are no partner airlines involved.
However if you run into pushback then my general advice is to get to the airport early. If the airport has more than one security line, and you get turned away at the first one, just go through security somewhere else before arguing. You might also get your airline to make a note in your reservation about the mistake, and then the airline might be helpful on the day of travel if you have to escalate things with a TSA supervisor.
I Got Married But Already Booked My Honeymoon Tickets
A name change is actually pretty easy to do when the passenger isn’t changing, the ticket is just being updated to match travel documents. That’s true for small corrections (like a misspelling) and it’s also true when you legally change your name. The airline is going to require documentation, and may charge you a modest fee, but changes are possible.
Where things run into difficulty is when you buy a ticket from one airline, but it involves travel on another airline. That’s common when booking international award travel – you might use United miles to travel on Lufthansa and Thai Airways, or American miles to fly Cathay Pacific. The U.S. carrier can’t just change the name on the ticket on their own, and will often say it’s not possible (though I’ve had it done). It gets complicated because it takes time and manual intervention – an airline’s partner liaison getting in touch with their counterpart at the other airline. Often making that process happen can be a pain, and the results aren’t guaranteed.
If you’re getting married and you’ve already booked honeymoon travel (where this comes up most) the simplest thing, if you’re going to change your name, is to wait until travel is completed to make the change. There’s no requirement to change a name at all, let alone right away.
Changing a name takes time, even just in the case of marriage, since the marriage certificate is needed to update a drivers license and passport. Once you change the name on a passport don’t forget to update your Global Entry, too. This doesn’t require an appointment, but it does require showing up at a Global Entry enrollment center in person.
How American Airlines Handles Name Corrections
American Airlines has a policy – that’s similar at many carriers – to allow name corrections. There are two kinds of corrections – minor and major – and the processes are different for each.
American Airlines offers flexibility for Minor and Major name corrections for wholly unused (001) validated tickets.
Minor name corrections apply to itineraries that consist of American prime and American Eagle flights only and may be corrected in the same PNR. Itineraries ticketed in “R” inventory must follow Major Name Correction Guidelines
Major name corrections apply to itineraries ticketed in “R” inventory, codeshare flight segments on our AA*/oneworld® codeshares or non-oneworld carriers, and require a new PNR as a name correction cannot be made within the same PNR due to GDS limitations.
Here are the American Airlines instructions for travel agents making minor name corrections:
Here are the American Airlines instructions for major name corrections:
There are also instructions (.pdf) for making additional changes after the first correction, and for making changes to the name of an infant traveling without their own seat.